A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A License to Kill

A new anti-Obama group runs a bunk-filled ad implying he'd give a driver's license to Mohammed Atta.


An upstart group calling itself the "National Republican Trust PAC" mixes a pile of false claims and the image of 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta to create one of the sleaziest false TV ads of the campaign.

  • The spot falsely claims Obama has a "plan" to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. In fact, Obama has said quite specifically, "I am not proposing that that’s what we do."
  • The ad implies such licenses would enable terrorist attacks. In fact, Atta wouldn’t have needed one to carry out his attacks.
  • It claims that Obama’s health care plan will apply to illegal immigrants. But Obama has stated quite clearly that his plan "does not" cover illegal immigrants.

The ad falsely claims that Obama’s plan "gives illegals Social Security benefits," which is also flatly untrue.


Despite its name, the National Republican Trust has no formal connection to the Republican Party. It is an independent group with ties to the conservative Web site Newsmax. It sprang into being barely a month ago and has reported spending more than $900,000 to attack Obama through e-mail messages and, now, TV ads.

Its TV spot first showed up on the air in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 26, and it has also received considerable circulation on the Web. It attempts to link Sen. Barack Obama to the 9/11 hijackers. The link? A spurious claim that Obama plans to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. NRT PAC, which is headed by a former writer for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Insight magazine, says it plans to air the ad in other swing states.

Update, Oct. 29: Newsmax distributed a new NRT PAC fundraising e-mail today in which NRT boasts of having now raised "over $3 million." A postscript states that the group’s ads are now running "in 5 battleground states."

Drive Like a Maniac

[TET ]

National Republican Trust PAC Ad: "Social Security for Illegals"

Announcer: Millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. Barack Obama’s plan gives a driver’s license to any illegal who wants one.

But that’s not all.

Obama’s plan gives illegals Social Security benefits and raises taxes for his health care plan to cover them. Who pays? You do.

Driver’s licenses and government benefits for illegals. Higher taxes for us. That’s Obama’s plan. Obama. Too radical. Too risky.

The National Republican Trust PAC is responsible for the content of this advertisement.[/TET]

The ad begins with the ominous warning that "Barack Obama’s plan gives a driver’s license to any illegal who wants one." More alarmingly, the ad flashes a picture of a Florida driver’s license featuring 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta. The ad then goes on to claim that Obama’s "plan" provides illegal immigrants with Social Security and health care benefits and would raise taxes to pay for it.

Hardly a word in the ad is true.

Let’s start with the incendiary implication that Obama’s "plan" would somehow enable terrorists like Atta. That’s ridiculous. It’s true that Atta did use a Florida driver’s license to board the plane he hijacked. It’s also irrelevant. Atta entered the U.S. legally, using a tourist visa, so laws about licenses for illegal immigrants wouldn’t have affected him anyway. What’s more, Atta could just as easily have boarded the plane with his Egyptian passport. The Transportation Security Administration lists foreign government-issued passports as acceptable identification for boarding a U.S. flight. For that matter, The Cato Institute’s Jim Harper, who advises the Department of Homeland Security on data privacy, describes NRT PAC’s claim as "despicable" and says that it is "terror-pandering of the highest order."

Plan? What Plan?

Furthermore, NRT PAC’s claim that Obama has a "plan" to give driver’s licenses to "any illegal [immigrant] who wants one" is just false. Obama has no such plan. "Plan" implies a worked out, formal policy. But NRT rests its claim entirely on comments Obama made during two Democratic primary debates. All candidates were asked whether they supported then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Obama hedged, but when pressed, admitted that he agreed with states granting licenses, and requiring insurance. Here’s part of the exchange:

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (Nov. 15, 2007): Barring, avoiding, assuming there isn’t going to be comprehensive immigration reform, do you support or oppose driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants?

Obama: I am not proposing that that’s what we do. … I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver’s licenses at the state level can make that happen. But what I also know, Wolf, is that if we keep on getting distracted by this problem, then we are not solving it.

We take no position on the wisdom of Spitzer’s proposal. But it’s false to puff up Obama’s comments into a "plan" when he quite specifically said, "I am not proposing that that’s what we do." That sounds to us to be the opposite of a plan. The group would have been correct had it said Obama supported Spitzer’s plan, but only in the absence of a federal effort to fix the immigration mess.

Health Care and Taxes. Again.

It is simply untrue that Obama plans to provide health care for illegal immigrants. To the contrary, in an exchange with CNN’s Joe Johns during a January debate in South Carolina, Obama explicitly ruled out coverage for illegal immigrants:

Johns (Jan. 21, 2008): Senator Obama, we all know what universal health care is, as Senator Clinton just said, sort of the idea that everybody deserves health care. And I have not been able to sort of zero in on your position on this one question: Does your plan cover the estimated 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the country?

Obama: It does not.

Johns: Why not?

Obama: Well, because I think we’ve got limited resources. And it is important for us that, when we’ve got millions of U.S. citizens that aren’t yet covered, it’s important for us to make sure that they are provided coverage.

That sounds pretty clear to us. Furthermore, as we’ve said more times than we care to count now, Obama’s plan raises taxes only on people making more than $200,000 ($250,000 for a couple). That’s true for income taxes, capital gains taxes and payroll taxes.

Social Security Bunk That Won’t Die

Just for good measure, the ad recycles some two-year-old bunk, too. The claim that Obama "plans" to grant Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants is nowhere to be found on his Web site. NRT PAC bases this claim on Obama’s vote on an amendment to a 2006 immigration bill. But that amendment would not have granted Social Security benefits to any illegal immigrants, not unless they became U.S. citizens or legal immigrants first. We debunked this attack back in 2006 when it was a Republican favorite. The passing years haven’t made it any truer.

Under current law, an illegal immigrant who later gets legal status can claim credit for any Social Security taxes he or she paid while still illegal. The 2006 amendment would have ended that practice. The bill failed 50 – 49, with Obama joining the majority to vote against it. Many illegal immigrants pay Social Security taxes even while working illegally. In 2006, for example, the Social Security Administration collected about $7 billion in taxes that couldn’t be credited to specific workers.

Again, we take no position on the merits of the amendment. But it’s a serious distortion to say that it would have granted Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants.

End-Game Sleaze

The National Republican Trust PAC came into being Sept. 26, when it first registered with the Federal Election Commission. By Oct. 15 it had reported raising $463,000 for its anti-Obama campaign. (Update: In an e-mail to supporters on Oct. 29, the group said it had raised more than $3 million.) It has reported spending a total of $902,604 to attack Obama, according to the most recent report filed Oct. 26. It has reported spending substantial sums to the conservative Web site Newsmax and to other vendors for "email communication" opposing Obama’s election, and to a Virginia company called Integram for "direct mail." It has also listed expenditures for "media production" and a "media buy."

Its Web site lists its executive director as Scott Wheeler, who also writes articles for Newsmax, which the NRT PAC pays to distribute anti-Obama e-mail messages, many of which are little more than fundraising pleas.

It’s not uncommon for the final weeks of the presidential campaign to bring out some of the most deceptive ads of the cycle. We thought it would be tough to top the whoppers we’ve seen already, but it looks as if some of the third-party ads are out to prove us wrong. If this gem from the National Republican Trust PAC is any indication, we’d best brace for a blizzard of balderdash.

– by Joe Miller


"ID Requirements for Airport Checkpoints," Transportation Security Administration. Accessed 27 October 2008.

"Fact Sheet: Obama’s Dismal Record on Illegal Aliens," National Republican Trust PAC. Accessed 27 October 2008. 

"Fact Sheet: Obama Backs Driver’s Licenses for Illegals," National Republican Trust PAC. Accessed 27 October 2008. 

Harper, Jim, "The National Republican Trust PAC is Wrong," Cato @ Liberty. Accessed 27 October 2008.